Friday, August 22, 2014

Thoughts on ‘God Help the Girl’

Typically, Chris S. is able to dispatch the whole God Help the Girl project with a look of righteous indignation and the proclamation that Stuart Murdoch has got the horn — which is much the funniest way of looking at it, but there is a bit more to say, I think. It’s affecting, is the first thing, which is a relief. It works, as a rite of passage movie, about a young Australian woman, Eve, who naïvely follows where her true love leads, to Glasgow, and ends up a heartbroken anorexic. The film is the story of her recovery, through — friends and music? Through a band, certainly. She plays songs on her own on the hospital’s piano, then she magically improvises ‘The Psychiatrist is In’ in her flatmate James’ room, while he strums a guitar, dumbfounded. They add Cassie to their number because James already plays music with her. She marches on a machine in an exercise park (instant comedy) as the other two discuss how to make a great pop record. Eve is still fragile, and doesn’t want to involve any other people. James is clear: if you’re making a pop record, you need drums and bass. He is the motivator early on, taking Eve and Cassie out on canal expeditions in a canoe, and providing the learned pop narrative in which, in his vision, the band (I don’t think they’re actually called God Help the Girl in the film) need to exist. It takes Eve a while to notice the flaw with this vision, which is that it doesn’t include an audience, particularly. James wants to make the perfect record on his own terms; Eve comes to realise that the thing she wants is to sing to people, and connect with them.

These musical differences are paralleled romantically, when Eve, instead of taking up with the nice chap who has rescued her from despair, opts for a brooding, masterful Frenchman, who treats her bad and gives her the horn. James concentrates on making himself and his behaviour perfect in his own eyes, and unimpeachable in Eve’s; but unimpeachable is not sexy. Unimpeachable doesn’t grab the moment. So the film embodies the whole indier-than-thou / Pop! debate: it’s about ambition and integrity, and it seems to side with the notion that integrity without ambition is not worth the bedsit it’s concocted in. Just like Belle and Sebastian embraced their fame and became a proper pop band. But they didn’t leave Glasgow to do it, so it feels a little odd to see Eve get on a train to London at the end, to go to music college.

So maybe that’s not it: maybe James is the moral victor, setting off with Cassie and her tandem, back out of Central Station, knowing that, at nearly twenty five, his (quite local) wandering days are not over yet.


Further thoughts after a second viewing

  • The hunk (still can’t remember his name) is German Swiss, not French, don’t know where I got that from.
  • Throughout, Cassie wears a pendant saying ‘Deputy’, which is a cool thing to do.
  • Eve’s tape, which she hands in, via the hunk, to a local radio station, does actually say ‘God Help the Girl’ on it.
  • The local DJs, whom you never see, are played by Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie. This works very well, but it’s odd that the local Glasgow DJs aren’t Glaswegian.
  • It’s odd too that none of the leads are even Scottish. The most memorable locals in the film, arguably, are the neds who proposition Cassie from the bank as the three band members paddle past in a canoe.
  • As James and Cassie ride off on a tandem, and the credits roll, Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Dress Up In You’ plays, which supports the idea of James as the moral victor, with Eve selling out, or at least moving on to somewhere less special.
  • James makes much of the fact that he lived in Scotland for six months after he was born, before he moved to England. Everyone knows that you have to stay for two years for it to mean anything.

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